Cook says legislation would fight corruption
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/02/2010 09:32:02 PM PDT

Assemblyman Paul Cook ramped up efforts Friday to inform the public, and clear up any misconceptions, about his bill that would allow San Bernardino County to impanel an additional grand jury to investigate local government.

In addition to allowing an additional grand jury, Cook’s AB 1906 would also allow the presiding judge to extend the term of the grand jury longer than a year, if necessary, to complete an investigation.

Cook, R-Yucaipa, said in a statement that his bill would address two important issues.

“First, an additional grand jury would put more eyes on local government, and second, it would allow the grand jurors adequate time to perform their function,” Cook said.

Although the California Constitution does not limit grand juries to investigate only county government, such is often the case because of time constraints, Cook said.

“They can, and should, examine city governments, city redevelopment agencies, special districts and other local government entities as well,” Cook said.

The limitation, Cook says, presents problems in that it prevents local bodies from reaping the benefits of the grand jury’s recommendations and creates an attitude among local governments of being untouchable and prone to irresponsible spending and waste.

Last month, Cook’s legislation passed the Assembly and is now on its way to a Senate committee, said Sam Cannon, a spokesman for Cook.

On March 23, Supervisor Paul Biane testified before the Assembly Public Safety Committee, urging it to advance the legislation.

Biane said grand-jury members have approached him in recent years complaining about not having enough time to investigate complaints and dig deeper into the issues. He likes the idea of the presiding judge extending terms, if need be.

He believes an additional grand jury would complement, not hinder, any work by the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, which investigates government and other public officials suspected of criminal conduct.

Typically, the District Attorney’s Office would impanel a special grand jury through a summons process to hear evidence and return an indictment. The duration of such terms is usually much shorter than an investigation into local government malfeasance, said Charles Umeda, a grand-jury legal adviser for the District Attorney’s Office.

“We have rarely used it (grand jury) to do an open-ended investigation into issues. Usually, we use the civil grand jury for that,” Umeda said.

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